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Book Review

Why We Broke up by Daniel Handler has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

High school junior Min Green prepares to give her ex-boyfriend Ed Slaterton a box full of all the little objects she acquired during their relationship. The story is written in the form of a lengthy letter. In it, Min explains each object in the box, as she recounts various moments from her dating days with Ed, demonstrating how his behavior contributed to their breakup.

The first item in the breakup box is two bottle caps from the night they first met. They opened bottles of ale together at her best friend's 16th birthday party. She points out that Ed was an uninvited guest to Al's party and that he wasn’t gracious to Al, which should have been a sign to her that Ed wasn’t good boyfriend material.

Next is a theater bill from an old movie they watched together on their first date. Min always saw her relationship with Ed cinematically, wanting every moment to be extraordinary and beautiful. Min had the whimsical idea that an old woman in the theater was a famous classic film actress, who had come to watch herself on the screen. Min convinced Ed to join her in following the woman home, so that they could have a mysterious adventure together.

They followed the woman to an overpriced restaurant. Ed took a pack of matches from it and gave them to Min. Then they bought a camera at a novelty shop, which Min also includes in the breakup box. They took pictures of the old woman, but never developed the film.

The next Monday at school, Ed left a complexly folded note in Min’s locker. The note said he couldn’t stop thinking about her, and Min began to fall for Ed. The next item in the breakup box is a torn flyer from the Halloween Ball. Al and Min had been painstakingly putting up flyers all around the school, and Ed tore off part of a flyer to write down his phone number for Min. To Min, this later became a sign of how Ed didn’t care about other people’s property or notice other people’s labor.

Min returns a coin to Ed from when he first met her friends at the Cheese Parlor, a local restaurant. Min recalls that Ed didn’t have change for the jukebox, so he reached into her friend Lauren’s purse and grabbed some quarters without asking permission.

A rubber band is Min’s memento from her first time hanging out at Ed’s house, when she met his cool older sister, Joan. Min and Joan bonded while cooking, and Min tied her hair up with a rubber band. Ed pulled the rubber band from Min’s hair because he preferred her appearance with her hair down, not caring that he’d taken the band out so quickly it also yanked out a few strands of Min’s hair.

Min returns a high school pennant from Ed’s basketball game, when she first noticed how little she enjoyed watching sports. That game showed Min how dull it was to be a basketball star’s girlfriend and highlighted how she and Ed operated in different social spheres.

She includes an unknown seed that she found attached to her clothes after a trip to the park with Ed. She and Ed had been fooling around sexually, which was why her clothes had ended up on the ground, picking up the stray seed.

Next Min includes an old coat from when they stole sugar from a diner. Min had convinced Ed to help her throw a party in honor of the old film star’s birthday and insisted that they follow a recipe that recommended stolen sugar instead of purchased sugar. Min bought a cheap coat with large pockets and Ed took the sugar dispenser from the diner. The breakup box is also filled with lots of fallen sugar from the coat.

An empty bottle of Pensieri wine is next, another ingredient intended for the movie star’s party. By this time, Ed had confessed that he loved Min, and she fell more deeply into her infatuation with him.

For Halloween, they had made a complicated plan to attend both the Halloween Bash, an event enjoyed by popular kids, and the Halloween Ball, attended by Min’s artsy crowd. Before the Halloween Bash, Min found out that Ed told everything about their relationship to his friends, including the precise extent of their physical relationship. Min was furious at Ed and retaliated by drinking too much and dancing with her ex-boyfriend Joe at the Halloween Ball. However, she left the party with Ed and told him the next day that she was ready to sleep with him.

Min puts a comb in the breakup box, a souvenir from the hotel Ed brought her to when she lost her virginity. Min was devastated when she noticed how cool and casual Ed was about having sex in a hotel, and she realized that while it was her first time, Ed was already very experienced.

The last big present Ed gave Min was a pair of ugly earrings, which she puts in the box. Min never wore the earrings because soon after receiving them, she went with Ed to a local flower shop. The florist called her by the wrong name, and Min found out that Ed was still sending flowers to his ex-girlfriend Annette and having sex with her.

Min recalls her complete emotional breakdown afterward, but also reflects on the hopeful fact that the breakup with Ed led her to start dating her friend Al, who had always loved her. Min finishes her letter to Ed by describing a party she is joyfully planning with Al.

Christian Beliefs

At Al’s house, there are photos of him looking uncomfortable while standing in front of a church. Strict Christian parents raised Min's friend Lauren, and everyone in their group jokes about their overt religiousness.

Other Belief Systems

Min is Jewish but does not actively participate.

Authority Roles

The characters’ parents and the teachers at their school play an unimportant role in the novel, occasionally providing a small annoyance or obstacle for Min. Basketball coaches look the other way when teenage athletes drink alcohol at parties.

Ed’s mother is never seen, but has some kind of chronic illness that makes his college-age sister, Joan, the de facto head of the household. Min and her mother don’t have a bad relationship, but they’re not close. Min resents her mother’s attempt to meddle in her life and find out about her romantic relationships.


The following words are used throughout: a--, d--n, the f-word, h---, b--tard, b--ch, s---, g—d--n, and fag. God and Jesus’ names are used in vain occasionally. Gay is used as a slur by Ed, describing anything that isn’t cool.

The Hellman High School mascot is a beaver, which leads to immature sexual slang and jokes from minor characters.


Min and Ed kiss deeply and frequently. Ed also thinks that Al is gay because Al isn’t stereotypically masculine. Min and Ed engage in various forms of sexual contact and varying levels of nudity when they are alone in his house, the backseat of someone else’s car and in secluded corners of the local park.

When they start dating, Min is technically a virgin, but Ed has had a lot of sexual experience with previous girlfriends. Min is ambivalent about whether they should have penetrative sex, and she asks her friend Al if she would be an immoral person if she had sex with Ed. Al says when a person has sex, they should love the other person. Min and Ed eventually do have sex in a hotel.

The local graveyard is known to be a local gay sex hangout.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Teens drink alcohol.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

16 and up


Daniel Handler






Record Label



Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group


On Video

Year Published



Michael L. Printz Honor Book, 2012; ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults book, 2012


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